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'You never get totally used to it'

On a sunny Monday afternoon, Todd and Peggy Sudheimer relaxed in lawn chairs as they watched their 13-year-old son, Joel, practice ahead of a soccer game.

“He’s over there,” Todd said, pointing toward the northeast portion of the field between Hutchinson High School and West Elementary.

At about 4 p.m. he was beginning to wonder if he remembered the starting time correctly. The other team hadn’t arrived yet but other parents had lined up nearby with their chairs. There was no obvious indication that Todd’s life, and that of his family, would soon look a lot different.

It was announced last week that nearly 700 soldiers from the Minnesota National Guard’s St. Paul-based 34th Expeditionary Combat Aviation Brigade would deploy next month. Command Sgt. Major Todd Sudheimer and his fellow National Guard members had been told earlier so they would have time to prepare.

“You never get totally used to it,” he said.

This will be his fourth deployment in his 35 years of service. From 2007-08 he was in Iraq, in 2011-12 he was in Kuwait and in 2014-2015 he returned to Kuwait. The 34th ECAB will provide support to United States Armed Forces and Coalition Forces as part of a multi-state Army National Guard Expeditionary Combat Aviation Brigade in a task force comprised of active duty, National Guard and reserve soldiers, along with Coalition Forces from Spain and Italy.

The task force will be split up across portions of Kuwait and Iraq as part of two separate missions to offer whatever assistance is needed. The 34th ECAP will fly UH-60 Black Hawks, CH-47 Chinooks and AH-64 Apache helicopters, Grey Eagle unmanned aircraft and the fixed wing C-12 Huron.

“We will provide support to Operation Spartan Shield and Operation Inherent Resolve, using aviation assets to provide reconnaissance, transportation and medical evacuation,” 34th ECAB Commander Gregory Fix said in a press release.

“The mission always changes,” Todd said. “You set up expectations ahead of time, but there are things that happen during deployment that change.”

Joel was nine months old when his father was first deployed, and two when he returned. Joel was five when Todd was deployed the second time and eight the third time.

“We don’t let him get so wound up and use it as an excuse. Life has to go on,” Todd said. “As we get closer, it gets tougher for him. He doesn’t like to talk about it much.”

Todd and Peggy could only laugh when asked how they prepare for another deployment.

“I guess everything falls into place,” Peggy said. “We’re so busy with the store.”

Todd has lived in McLeod County for 20 years. He has owned Carpets Plus Color Tile in Hutchinson for 23 years.

“It’s been part of our life for so long,” Todd said. “I’ve been part of the National Guard for a long time. I met her and we married, and it’s been part of our life.”

“You learn as each deployment goes,” Peggy said. “The first was hard for us. We didn’t know what to expect. He left, and when he came back, that was the hardest part for us — not him leaving, but how do you come together as a family again?”

“It feels like you jump off a treadmill ... and then you’re trying to jump on again when you come back,” Todd said. “Life continued while you were gone.”

“Even with the store, (he) said (he) felt like an outsider coming (back) into the business,” Peggy said. “He came back into the house and it can be like, ‘Oh, we did it this way.’ We continued living our life. He came back and had to figure out how we lived for that year. And I didn’t know how he had been living for that year and I didn’t understand how he felt that year and a half he was gone.”

Everyone had to readjust, she said.

Todd is one of three National Guard members to be deployed from Hutchinson, and one of about 10 from the area, according to a National Guard public affairs officer. This is the 18th deployment of Minnesota National Guard aviation units in the past 18 years.

Amanda Lancaster, a Glencoe-Silver Lake High School graduate and recent Lester Prairie resident, moved to Texas ahead of her upcoming deployment so that her three children, Avery, Mason and Milo, and her husband, Caleb, will be closer to Caleb’s family, including his retired grandparents.

“They are going to help him take care of our kids,” she said.

Amanda, a sergeant, has been in the National Guard for eight years. Unlike the Sudheimers, this is her family’s first deployment.

The 34th ECAB will activate next month and arrive in the Middle East in December. It is expected to return to Minnesota in autumn of 2020. Post deployment will begin that winter or in the spring of 2021. As an automated logistical specialist, Amanda will order parts for vehicles or aircraft, organize work orders for mechanics and dispatch vehicles.

“For the most part I’d say I am prepared,” she said. “I don’t know about my kids. I don’t think they completely understand because they are little. I’ve been gone a month at a time before, but that’s not the same.”

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Nelson Farm's annual Pumpkin Festival turns 30

Ringing phones, a semitractor-trailer in the driveway and talk of the upcoming Pumpkin Festival occupied Don and Sonja Nelson’s thoughts on a recent day as they prepare for the event’s 30th anniversary.

This year’s Pumpkin Festival opens Saturday and runs weekends through Oct. 27, with two additional days of fun planned Oct. 17-18 during MEA break.

The Nelsons’ annual Pumpkin Festival might remind some people of the spookiness of Halloween, but the Nelsons have a different idea — it’s about having fun, not evoking fear.

The new addition to the festival is tire mountain.

“It’s just for kids to get up and climb into the top on tires in a circle,” Don said.

Every year they incorporate a corn maze with a particular theme, with this year’s theme being the 30th anniversary.

Sonja Nelson was raised on a dairy and turkey farm, and Don Nelson was brought up on a dairy and hog farm. They both studied agriculture at the University of Minnesota and later moved with their three children to their rural Litchfield farm in the late ‘70s.

Love for agriculture and educating kids and others is what inspired the Nelsons to start the Pumpkin Festival.

“We just found out a need,” Don Nelson said, explaining how the festival began. “Everybody wanted to come to the farm. Everybody wanted to go and see the animals. Everybody wanted pumpkins. That’s why we started doing it.”

The festival is dedicated to promoting agricultural lifestyle and knowledge, especially due to fewer people living on farms or knowing anything about them, Nelson said.

“I remember someone coming here several years ago,” recalled Val Chellin, who’s been helping the Nelsons with the festival for roughly 26 years, “and she was walking with (her) whole, entire family behind her, and she (said), ‘This is my favorite place in the fall.’ And her face was literally beaming.”

Ninety-five percent of people who attend come from a 100-mile radius, Don said, with visitors from St. Cloud, Willmar, Hutchinson, the Twin Cities, Little Falls and Spicer, and others even from Iowa and Wisconsin.

They come to get an up-close look at life on the farm — but also to have fun. And the Nelsons promise plenty of that, with a daily schedule that includes swinging in the 1900 barn hayloft, an Ag Olympics with prizes, and a trebuchet, which is also affectionately known as the “pumpkin chucker flinger thinger” at the Nelson farm.

“We both grew up on dairy farms, herd farms and turkey farms,” Don Nelson said. “We love agriculture. It’s the basic part of the world. Everybody eats. So farmers need to be ... telling kids about agriculture, so they get out on farms and tell them they need farmers to eat. So they should get to know the farmer, at least one.”

St. Anastasia will walk for education

Every year, students, teachers and parents from St. Anastasia Catholic School in Hutchinson rally together to support nonpublic education. This year will be no different.

Those participating in the Marathon for Nonpublic Education Fundraiser for the school will gather at the school at 1 p.m. Friday, Oct. 4, and start walking at 1:15 p.m after a short program.

“Everyone is invited,” sad Jason Corby, development director for the St. Anastasia Catholic Community. “We invite parents and family and anyone who wants to donate and participate with us is welcome.”

The students will walk 3 1/2 miles on a route that will take them across the Crow River on School Road, along the Luce Line Trail to Main Street, back across the river to Second Avenue and then to st. Anastasia.

Donations can be made at www.stanastasiaschool.net, submitted through a pledge with a student or as a business partner.